AJC Hosts Power Packed Award Dinner

AJC Hosts Power Packed Award Dinner

Dov Wilker interviewed Harvard scholar and author Dara Horn about a variety of current topics focusing on antisemitism and her reactions to it.

After 37 years with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and now with the AJT, , Jaffe’s focus is lifestyle, art, dining, fashion, and community events with emphasis on Jewish movers and shakers.

Ilene Engel graciously accepted the AJC Award // Photo Credit: Jacob Ross
Ilene Engel graciously accepted the AJC Award // Photo Credit: Jacob Ross

The Hotel Intercontinental Ballroom on April 18 was the backdrop for 375 strong and involved community members who came to pay tribute to Ilene Engel, hear more about the recent good works of the American Jewish Committee, and learn from guest speaker Dara Horn, American novelist and essayist who spoke of her recent appearances and past publications like “People Love Dead Jews.” She was interviewed by Dov Wilker, regional director of the AJC Atlanta/Southeast.

Co-event chairs Gabby and Mark Spatt welcomed the crowd as they extolled Engel as a family member who broadened the AJC tent, especially in the women’s advocacy and access (younger adult) spaces. Similarly, co-chairs Stephanie and Matt Weiss closed the program relating the impact Engel made on their lives.

The invocation and Shecheyanu was especially upbeat with honorary event chairs Rabbis David Silverman and Peter Berg (last year’s honoree), from their relative Orthodox to Reform positions here and their mutuality in saluting Ilene for making the world a better place. They both recognized the irony of being so close to Passover in a series of Dayenus about what in current terms would “be enough.”

(Left) Guest speaker Dara Horn, who flew in from Boston, was greeted by AJC President Belinda Morris.

AJC President Belinda Morris, spoke of the recent success of the AJC Unity Seder covering a cross section of attendees. She also saluted Engel’s service as president of AJC during the pandemic and in cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.

Morris counted the 195 days since Oct. 7 with 133 hostages still missing and how the AJC coordinated community-wide rallies. She awarded Anat Sultan-Dadon, Israel Consul General to the Southeast, a seder plate by artist Michael Aram for her management of the front lines amidst the current crises. An “Israel strong” video was then shown featuring comedian Modi among other familiar faces.

Event chair Maddie Cook referred to Ilene as “the woman in red who leads with grace and intention.” Earlier, in the pre-function hour, Cook told the AJT that she was honored to be on the host committee, and how Ilene set the example for Jewish leadership.

Mark and Gabby Spatts chat with Dov Wilker (right) before the program.

Wilker took to the stage seated in conversation with Horn, who holds a Phd from Harvard University in Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Horn stated that Harvard had turned to her during the recent spate of antisemitism and the resignation of its president. She stated, “I felt they were very sincere in meeting with me and taking it seriously.”

She was inundated by Jewish students asking for help, “upset with vandalism, being followed by a megaphone, professors refusing to call out antisemitism, being spat at for wearing a yarmulke.”

Ever calm, Horn’s style is to field hostile questions by “considering it ignorance vs. malice. How do we build a future together?”

Wilker rebounded, “But malice is loud!”

Maddie Cook poses with Barbara and Rabbi Alvin Sugarman.

Horn’s approach is to provide historical context of the many state-building nations during the 20th century … how things get partitioned, India, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey … if we prejudge, and don’t listen to the other side, how can we ever grow as a people? The Talmud is long because it includes so many ideas. Now even terrorists and Zionists talk to each other.”

She recounted that the Anne Frank House took six months to decide if a man could wear a yalmulkie to work there.

Wilker inquired as to what we could do to help people like “living Jews.” Both agreed that speaking up is the key. “Queen Esther did not worry about being doxed or cancelled … I have to feel that most people are on our side.”

Adam Hirsch and Matt Weiss welcome Joanne Lieberman, AJC National Board member and Director of Engagement, who flew in from Washington, D.C.

Honorary event chair Rabbi Alvin Sugarman presented the American Jewish Committee’s Annual Distinguished Advocate Award to Engel as “not one in a million, but one in a hundred million with no inflation.” An emotional Engel accepted and shared her humble roots from Jasper, Ala., the granddaughter of a peddler and parents who were among the first to go on a UJA mission to Israel.

She explained through her own health challenges how others lent her “a hand or an elbow … our time together was my salvation.”

She pledged to continue to work with courage and resolve and praised Wilker for being “a stalwart rock in the center of the AJC universe.”

Wilker concluded, “We must not remain silent.  As a part of the community, we understand the responsibilities that we have.”

During the pre-function hour, out of town guests and local fans told the AJT of their motivation. Joanne Lieberman, AJC national board and director of engagement, flew in from Washington, D.C., and said, “Ilene is a fearless leader. I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.”

Barbara (Engel’s cousin) and Bob Costrell, in from Fayetteville, Ark., remarked, “Since the day she was born, there has never been a better person dedicated to good deeds.”

Another cousin, Ronne Hess, from Birmingham, said, “I practically raised her!”

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